A couple of years ago John McGinn wasn’t convinced that Jason Cummings had what it took to become a Hibs player.
Having twice come up against the then teenage striker as a St Mirren player, McGinn readily admits he was less than impressed by what he saw from a raw kid then in his first season as a professional.
Today, however, he’s a full paid-up member of the Cummings fan club, a player he now calls a team-mate both at club level and as captain of Scotland’s Under-21 side, adamant Hibs leading goal scorer can carve out an outstanding career for himself.
Cummings again displayed his eye for a goal, applying the deftest of touches to take his tally for the season to 15 as he opened the scoring against Rangers at Ibrox at the beginning of the week, a timely reminder to his admirers only a few days before the winter transfer window opened of his capabilities.
Although Hibs ultimately lost that match, a 4-2 defeat ending their 17 game unbeaten run, Alan Stubbs inevitably had to field a barrage of questions as to Cummings immediate future, the head coach adamant it would take an awful lot of money to even persuade the Capital club to consider selling their prize asset who, he claimed, is ready to take his game onto another level.
Cummings will undoubtedly be the subject of much speculation in the next few weeks with the likes of Swanseaa, Rotherham, Leeds United and Wolves among others said to be keeping tabs on him but McGinn, who believes Hibs aren’t planning to lose anyone any time soon, insisted the 20-year-old will not only take it all in his stride but thrive under the spotlight.
The midfielder said: “Jason is on top form so speculation will come his way. But he is used to it, he’s seen it happen to other boys and he knows what to expect. The kind of character he is in the dressing room, it certainly won’t bother him but he is not a player we want to lose.
“The more people who are watching him, the better he plays. He thrives under the attention and it doesn’t seem to faze him at all. That’s a massive credit to him and it’s great to have a guy who has that confidence and composure in the team.”
McGinn admitted, however, that he didn’t always have such a high opinion of the former Hutchie Vale kid. He said: “I played against him twice and he didn’t have the best of games. I wasn’t really sure if he was good enough for Hibs but he has come on leaps and bounds.
“He has been the one since I came here who has really impressed me and shown me he has more than I thought he had. That is a credit to him, He is a joy to work with and he is good for me because he is always running and giving defences a hard time. He’s matured an awful lot.
“He is still Jason off the pitch and you get what Jason gives you, but on the pitch he takes the bumps off defenders, he hold it up and he can score brilliant goals. He will go a long way, I’m sure.
“He has listened to the people around him. He has played with some experience strikers and even when he was in the team guys like James Collins gave him loads of tips and he just soaks it all in and learns from them and, as you can see, he is just getting better and better as the season goes on.”
Despite showing obvious maturity, Cummings is still seen as a “character”, someone who breezes through life with little to apparently wipe the smile off his face – and that’s something McGinn insisted he wouldn’t like to see change.
He said: “Jason is daft but if you take that daftness out of him I don’t think he would be as good a player. He has that aura about him. He feels he is invincible, that is the way he plays. It’s refreshing to see and you don’t want to take that out of him. That was reflected in the way he took his goal at Ibrox – if I was there I wouldn’t have done that.”
After their setback in Glasgow, McGinn was adamant he and their team-mates can bounce back against Raith Rovers in today’s Championship match at Easter Road, the intent being to embark on another long unbeaten run which, hopefully, will strengthen their title ambitions.
He said: “We have been really positive. The manager made sure straight after the game that we didn’t let the result affect us that much and when you put it into perpective it was one defeat in 18.
“We bounced back after being beaten by Rangers at Ibrox last time and we are massively confident we can do that again. We have immense characters in the dressing room. We win as a team, we lost as a team and while we did make mistakes at Ibrox, they weren’t individual mistakes. They were team mistakes.
“That’s the way we see it and that’s the way the manager drills it into us. We are ll together and we know if we are together then we can put runs together like the one we have just come off. There will be bumps and bruises along the way. That was only a wee bump.”
With Falkirk now in second place, ahead of Hibs on goal difference, McGinn emphasised the importance of beating Raith today, happily conceding it is a three-horse race for a title which only a few weeks ago was virtually being handed to Rangers by those who had dismissed the prospects of other clubs.
Insisting he and his team-mates will improve as the season goes on, he said: “We are not a complete team by any manner and we know there is always room for improvement. The gaffer is looking to strengthen the squad. We have already signed Chris Dagnall. He is training well, looks like he will be a good addition, so we can get stronger and that’s what we are looking to do.
“It’s really important that we take points at home and we know Raith are a good side. Their manager has them very organised, they are difficult to play against, but it we are on top of our game then we can get a result.”